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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife education’

National Tree Week (29 Nov – 7 Dec) begins on Saturday and with it the start of the tree planting season, it was launched in 1975 and is the UK’s largest annual tree celebration inspiring upward of a quarter of a million people to get their hands dirty and plant a million trees.

Trees make an attractive focal point in any garden, they are havens for wildlife too, providing homes and food for caterpillars (leaves), insects (flowers, leaves), beetles and larvae (trunk, rotting wood) these in turn are food for animals and birds especially newly fledged youngsters or hungry chicks still in the nest, in Autumn and Winter their fruits/berries and seeds provide a welcome meal for birds and animals, trees really are a very important part of the wild food chain.

If you are thinking of planting a tree you will need to consider where you are going to plant it, how much space is available and how big your tree will grow when it is mature.

If you only have a small garden don’t worry many trees can be planted in containers, dwarf fruit trees are ideal they have stunning flowers in spring, colourful leaves in autumn and delicious fruits, if you are not sure which tree to buy, have a look at the label for more information, or ask the supplier, some fruit trees can grow very big.

Oak Tree

In Britain we have some very old trees, many are surrounded by myths and legends or were growing during famous and historical events click here if you want to learn more about these ancient trees and if there is one near to you.

How do you tell how old a tree is?

There are two ways that you can find out:

  1. Chop the tree down and count the number of rings found in the trunk, each growth ring represents a year that the tree has been alive.
  2. Measure the circumference of the tree trunk, wrap your tape measure around the widest part of the trunk, measuring in inches each inch represents the age of the tree (52” = 52 years) this method will give you an estimate of the age of the tree as each variety of tree grows at a different rate, firs and redwoods may grow more in a year, while others like cedars may grow less.

So why not plant a tree this week or look for an old tree, give it a hug, and see if you can work out its age (don’t forget your tape measure).

Love your environment

Gill

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Hedgehogs are busy at the moment looking for a safe place to hibernate and eating plenty of food to build them up for the long winter months, if you love Hedgehogs why not have a go at our two free Gardening with Children Competitions, one in the Family Zone and one in the School Zone.

In both competitions you have a chance to win

Hogitat Hedgehog Home

The Hogitat Hedgehog House

A perfect winter retreat for your prickly garden friends

guide to Hedgehogs

Field Guide to Hedgehogs

and a pack of Hedgehog Food

Hedgehog Food

All you need to do in the School Zone Competition is to correctly identify which Trees the Seeds and Leaves pictured come from, in the Family Zone Competition you have to correctly identify the Fruit/Berries pictured, in each competition there is a list of options to help you.

Hurry, the closing date for both competitions is 30th November 2014

So what are you waiting for? Click on the above links to enter and find out more!

Good Luck

Gill

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I hope that you all had a fun Halloween, my favourite part is trimming up the front of the house with scary pumpkins, cobwebs, big spiders and bats – it’s funny we only tend to think about Bats at Halloween yet for most of the year they live all around us, in the UK we have 18 species of Bats, many of which we rarely see, they will probably have been flying above you whilst you were trick or treating, searching for flying insects (midges, beetles and moths) brought out by the warm weather, this year was the warmest Halloween on record reaching an incredible 23.6C (74.5F) in London during the afternoon.

Bats are not scary at all in fact they are beautiful, unique mammals that live a secretive life. Bats emerge at dusk to feed whilst they fly, during October/November they are making the most of any available insects and building up their fat reserves which is crucial to their survival during hibernation in the winter months. There is a saying ‘as blind as a Bat’ in fact Bats are not blind they have good eyesight, as good as ours, when they are hunting for insects at night they use their hearing to locate their prey, as they fly they make calls or ‘clicks’ and then listen to the returning echos, this is called Echolocation, it helps them to build up a map of their surroundings , including objects which they do not want to fly into and also to locate flying insects (their prey). The calls that the Bats make are usually pitched at a high frequency that we cannot hear, you can hear these calls if you have a Bat Detector, not only will it pick up the calls of Bats that are near but you can determine which species of Bat it is as each Bat has its own unique call.

Bats begin to hibernate in November, hibernation is a state of inactivity when the metabolic rate slows, body temperature is lowered and breathing is slower, during this time they live off their fat reserves they will begin to emerge in March looking for insects. Bats roost on their own or in small groups often in cool quiet places such as attics, disused buildings, tunnels, bridges, caves, or old trees but due to modern housing and redevelopment their roosting sites are diminishing, in the UK, bat populations have declined considerably over the last century.

We can all give our Bats a helping hand by putting up Bat Boxes, now is a crucial time for them, 2 or 3 placed in different directions will provide a range of roosting temperatures at different times, site as high up as possible, in a semi sunny position and out of prevailing winds and rain (preferably facing south, south-east and south-west). Boxes can be put on buildings ideally up by the eaves or on trees, 2 or 3 can be arranged around the trunks of larger trees, clear away any surrounding branches especially underneath so that the Bats have clear access and can land easily before climbing up into the box, different species will occupy different types of boxes.

The Double Chamber Bat Box  has two chambers with ledges for Bats to cling to.

 Wooden Bat Box

The Conservation Bat Box has vertical chambers with angled cut-away front showing ladder style grooves which allows the bat to climb into one of the twin chambers.

 Conservation bat box

All UK bats and their roosts are protected by law, which means it is illegal to harm or disturb them so don’t be tempted to open your bat box to see who is inside instead you will have to watch closely at dusk to see if anyone comes out, another sign that they are occupied is ‘mouse sized’ droppings that contain insects underneath the box, it may take quite a while for Bats to use your box be patient or you may be lucky and they move in within weeks.

So go ‘batty’ this month and put up a Bat box

Love your environment

Gill

 

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If you have been reading my previous blogs you will know that I love Autumn especially getting out for a walk and collecting leaves, seeds, nuts and fruits I simply can’t resist it. The fruits such as Blackberries and Apples can be cooked to enjoy now in Pies and Crumbles or made into jams, chutneys and preserves to savour over the next few months, the seeds and nuts can be planted and will produce new flowers/wildflowers for your garden or a new generation of trees, all that remains are the stunning colourful leaves and the seed/nut cases.

You can have lots of fun with leaves and when you have finished they can be turned into valuable leaf mould for your garden, for lots of ideas for your wonderful leaves click here. This year the Beech has produced a bumper crop of seeds (which are often called Beechnuts or Beechmasts) and as I have quite a lot of the Beech seed cases I got thinking … they are very dry, hard and often spikey just like the prickles of a Hedgehog, so why not ….

Beech Seed Case Hedgehog

Make a Hedgehog from Beech Seed Cases

What you will need

  • Dry Beech Seed Cases
  • Potatoes
  • A Cocktail Stick
  • Sticky Tack or Glue
  • Conkers
  • Black felt tip pen

What you need to do

  1. Choose a potato preferably with a flat side (to stop it rolling around) this will be the bottom.
  2. Leave one end of the potato bare for the face then make holes with your cocktail stick in rows along the back and sides inserting beech seed cases by their stalks until you have covered your potato.
  3. Draw or stick on some eyes then add the conker nose securing it in place with Sticky Tack or Glue

If you have plenty of materials why not make a Hedgehog family and arrange them on a tray/lid with some of your leaves.

Hedgehogs are busy at the moment looking for a safe place to hibernate and eating plenty of food to build them up for the winter months, why not have a go at the new free Gardening with Children Family Competition or School Competition for a chance to win a Hogitat Hedgehog House, a Field guide to Hedgehogs and some Hedgehog Food for the Hedgehogs in your garden.

The Hogitat Hedgehog House

The Hogitat Hedgehog House – a perfect winter retreat for your prickly garden friends

Have fun

Gill

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Buddleia

By our back door we have a lovely big Buddleia plant which is now in full flower, the Insects, Bees and Butterflies love it, it looks spectacular with its covering of long purple flower spikes. The common name for the Buddleia is the Butterfly Bush which is quite evident when you look at it on a warm, sunny day it is a Butterfly magnet providing an abundant supply of nectar, it is definitely a must have plant in your garden if you love Butterflies, each flower spike is not just a single flower but is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers each one rich in nectar.

Buddleias are very easy to grow from seed and they will self-seed very easily, this plant was a seedling from my allotment which was growing in the onion bed, there are quite a few more growing there again this year which I will pot up and plant in my garden or sunny corner of my allotment, give to friends or to Thomas’s School for their wild garden.

This hot, sunny weather is wonderful for butterflies and will give numbers a real boost especially after the wet summer of 2012 which was the worst on record for Butterflies, but how do we know that 2012 was the worst on record? Every year, throughout the year there are many surveys to monitor butterfly numbers, you can take part in one of the worlds biggest surveys of Butterflies which starts this Saturday 19th July until Sunday 10th August, it is called The Big Butterfly Count. The Big Butterfly count is run by the charity Butterfly Conservation who have raised awareness of the drastic decline in butterflies and moths, and created widespread acceptance that action needs to be taken to protect these unique and beautiful creatures.

What you need to do

Count butterflies for 15 minutes preferably on a sunny day recording the maximum number of each species that you see at a single time and submit your sightings online before the end of August. You can submit separate sightings for different dates and places: parks, school grounds, gardens, fields and forests. This is a great family activity that you can do during the summer holidays, whilst you are away on holiday or as a class activity at school if you have time before the end of term. Submit your sightings online at before the end of August 2014.

For more information have a look at the Big Butterfly Count website, there is also a handy Butterfly Chart to download and print which will  help you to identify and record the species you spot.

Buddleia and Small Tortoiseshell

Buddleia not only attracts Butterflies and insects during the day, at night moths feast on the fragrant nectar rich flowers, so if you have space in your garden plant a Buddleia they are easy to grow, need very little attention and look stunning especially covered in Butterflies, if you keep removing the dead flowers this will encourage new ones, extending the flowering period and providing food for insects well into Autumn.

If you want to know more about attracting Butterflies to your garden click here.

Love your environment

Gill

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National Insect Week logo
 
Next week is National Insect Week (23-29 June) it is organised by the Royal Entomological Society and encourages people of all ages to learn more about insects.
 
Did you know that there are over one million species of insects in the world these are just the ones that have been discovered and named with possibly many more new species out there just waiting to be found? In the UK alone there are more than 24,000 species, they are very varied in appearance (shape, size and colour) and live quite differently in their own habitats, many go unnoticed in our day-to-day life, why not go and explore your patch to see what is living in your school garden or your garden at home.
 
Be prepared
Hopefully the sun will be shining but you may need waterproofs, old clothes and Wellingtons.The Minibeast GuideEquipment
A Minibeast/Insect Identification Guide, Camera, Magnifying Glass, Note Pad, Pencil and a suitable container (not airtight) to study your insects (release your insects as soon as possible and return them to where they were found, please take care not to injure the insects themselves or disturb their environment).
 
Where to look
Have a look under stones/rocks/plant pots/logs and rotting wood, in compost heaps and long grass, on the underside of leaves, on flower heads, in leaf litter and near ponds (always have an adult with you).

Dragonfly

Insects to look out for
  • Dragonflies and Damselflies
  • Ladybirds
  • Grasshoppers/Crickets
  • Beetles
  • Butterflies
  • Hoverflies
  • Aphids/Greenfly
  • Moths
  • Lacewings
  • Ants
  • Wasps
  • Bees
  • Earwigs
  • Flies
  • Bugs
Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth

 
Once you find your insect, make a record of what it is, draw a picture of it or take a photograph, record where you found it, what it was doing or what it was eating/feeding on and the date.
 
When you have been on your Insect Hunt why not tell us what you find or send in your drawing or photograph to enter our free Family Zone competition for a chance to win a Ladybird and Insect Tower and a Field guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles for full details click here or have a go at our Insect Quiz in the School Zone for a chance to win your school a Solar Insect Theatre and a Minibeast Identification Guide for full details click here.
 
If you want to encourage more insects to your garden why not put up some Insect Houses, they will provide a safe winter haven as well as looking attractive.
 
Wildlife World Bee & Bug Biome

Bee and Bug Biome

Solitary Bee Hive

Solitary Bee Hive

The Butterfly Biome

The Butterfly Biome

 
An Insect Hunt is a great way to get children (and adults) outdoors and interested in their environment, everyone can take part whatever their age (I love it just as much as Thomas), here are some of our findings on our Insect Hunt last weekend.
 
Common Green Grasshopper

Common Green Grasshopper

Fritillary Butterfly

Fritillary Butterfly

 
Happy hunting
 
Gill
 

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All of our family are passionate about wildlife and have been watching  Springwatch avidly over the last 3 weeks, on one of their programmes they were encouraging people to take part in a survey to monitor the Hedgehog population by putting food in a friendly ‘trap’ this reminded me of the project that myself and Thomas did in February to detect whether we had mice in the greenhouse.

Most winters mice take up residence in my greenhouse there are many potential nesting places amongst the empty compost bags, fleeces and plant pots/seed trays, one year I even found a nest in the middle of a large ball of string it was very cute, although I love all creatures great and small mice can be very messy and smelly, they are definitely not toilet trained and have been known to nibble my young seedlings, so during the school holidays for a bit of fun we made a Mouse detector.

How to make a Mouse Detector

What you will need

  • A Plastic Pipe (minimum 30cm long, 7cm diameter)
  • or a Cardboard box (minimum base size 30cm x 20cm)
  • or an open ended narrow Wood Tunnel – see picture below (if you know somebody handy in DIY)
  • White paper
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Poster paint (non-toxic)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Tasty snacks – Peanut Butter/Chocolate/Bird Seed Mixture

mammal detector 1

How to make your detector

  1. Thomas’s dad made a wood tunnel using off-cuts and with a removable top (although this is not necessary) it measured approx. 40 x 15 x 15cm externally.
  2. Cut your white paper to fit in the bottom of your detector.
  3. If you are using a cardboard box cut two small holes at opposite sides of the box at ground level.
  4. Cut two small pieces of greaseproof paper to fit across your openings at least 4cm deep and glue or staple down.
  5. Mix your poster paint with an equal amount of vegetable oil and brush generously onto the greaseproof paper.
  6. Place your tasty snacks in the centre of the sheet of paper.
  7. If you are using a plastic pipe or wood tunnel staple the greaseproof pieces at either ends of your paper, apply your paint, put your snacks in the centre of the sheet and slide carefully into the pipe/tunnel.
  8. Place your traps at the bottom of a wall, fence or hedge before you go to bed at night, any visitors tempted by the food will walk through the paint and leave their footprints on your paper, we found that it is a good idea to place sheets of paper on the outside of your trap (if the ground is flat) as the mice will walk through the paint again before leaving, use a cardboard box on dry evenings or inside a greenhouse/shed/outbuilding as they are not waterproof.

Mouse prints

We indeed did have mice, they were nesting in some old bird boxes that were being stored in the greenhouse I temporarily blocked the holes up with some old socks whilst I moved the bird boxes complete with mice to a corner of my allotment, unfortunately my kindness has back fired I think that the hungry mice have been helping themselves to my newly sown peas as very few have germinated!

Have fun and love your environment

Gill

 

 

 

 

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Congratulations to our March/April Competition Winners the School Zone Competition was won by Bowes Hutchinson’s C of E Primary School, Barnard Castle, County Durham and the Family Zone Competition was won by Dominic Nelson from Bishops Stortford both winners received an Essentials Propagator and a selection of seed trays, flowers pots and labels, well done to both of you, I hope that you enjoy your prizes and that you use them to grow lots of flowers, fruit and vegetables.

As the weather warms up and the days get longer you may notice a lot more insects in your garden, but how much do you really know about them and do you know their names, in the New School Zone Competition have a go at our Insect Quiz for a chance to win your School

a Solar Insect Theatre (perfect for catching and watching insects)

Solar Insect Theatre

and a Minibeast Identification Guide (to help you to identify them).

The Minibeast Guide

For full details on how to enter, your entry form and those all important Quiz Questions click here.

There are many bugs living in our gardens to enter our New Family Zone Competition why not go on a bug hunt and tell us what bugs you find or take a photograph or draw a picture of one and send it in to us and you could win

a Ladybird and Insect Tower (a perfect home for Ladybirds and Insects)

 Ladybird and Insect Tower

and a Field guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles (to help you to identify your inhabitants).

Field Guide to Ladybirds

For full details on how to enter and your entry form click here.

The closing date for both Competitions is 31st July 2014.

Good Luck

Gill

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Blackbird Nest Box

Have you ever wondered how Blackbirds always manage to find worms in your lawn, they make it look very easy but how do they do it and is it really that easy.

Blackbirds are very intelligent and well adapted birds they use 3 of their senses to locate the worms.

Sight

As Blackbirds scuttle across the lawn they are looking for worms and movement, they will then pause and tilt their heads to see the worms on the ground using one eye as their eyes are positioned at either side of their head (laterally), this also gives them excellent all round vision.

Sound

Birds do not have any visible ears as we do but have ‘audile orifices’ that are covered with a thin layer of feathers. Blackbirds are unique because both of their ‘ears’ are connected to one organ between their ‘ears’ this allows them to work out which direction the sound is coming from, by tilting their head they can pin point more accurately the sound and the worm.

Feel

After looking and listening Blackbirds often locate worms by probing the ground with their beak, which is very sensitive and can sense the tiny movement vibrations made by the worm.

Unfortunately our bodies are not as sophisticated as the Blackbirds but you can still have lots of fun finding worms in your lawn. Why not have a Worm Charming Competition? this could be with your family or friends at Brownies, Cubs or your local Youth Group or on a larger scale why not make it a School fundraising event.

Lumbricus Hortensis (Dendrobaena)

Worm Charming Competition

  1. Mark out a square plot for each competitor leaving plenty of space around each one.
  2. Each competitor has 20 minutes (suggested time) to charm as many worms out of ground within their allocated plot.
  3. No forking or digging allowed.
  4. Place your worms in a suitable container containing damp soil, organic material out of the sun.
  5. The person with the most worms wins.

There are many techniques to try to encourage your worms to the surface including playing music, jumping, dancing, hitting the ground with sticks or with your hands and watering the ground, whatever method you choose be very careful when handling your precious worms try not to pull them too hard and always place them somewhere safe afterwards so that they can return underground.

The Compact WOW Wooden Observation Wormery

If you want to learn more about worms why not consider setting up a wormery in your garden, for lots of fascinating worm facts and how to set up a wormery click here.

Have fun – Love your environment

Gill

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Last week we managed to get away for a short break to Silverdale this is one of our favourite places and one we visit regularly throughout the year. The area has a diverse landscape (ancient woodland, flower rich meadows, limestone pavements and coastal saltmarshes) making it a haven for a large, varied and unique range of wildlife, Thomas is very interested in birds and saw a record number of species –  82 in total, but it was the Butterflies that really caught my attention especially the Brimstones which were dancing along the hedgerows.

Photograph of Brimstone from Butterfly Conservation website

Brimstones are quite big butterflies with leaf shaped veined wings which blend in well when they are resting amongst foliage, the females have pale green/white wings and the males have yellow-green underwings and yellow upperwings making them very easy to spot. In Spring the butterflies feed on Dandelion, Primrose, Cowslip, Bugle and Bluebell flowers which can often be found under hedges, the caterpillars feed on Buckthorn leaves.

Butterfly numbers have nearly halved in the last forty years, last year’s hot summer did boost numbers but there is a long way to go before their numbers return to a healthy and stable population. Butterfly Conservation is a charity dedicated to protecting butterflies, moths and our environment (www.butterfly-conservation.org) through conserving and creating habitats, recording and monitoring, raising awareness and encouraging  individuals and families  to get involved. On their website there is lots of information and pictures of Butterflies and Moths and a really useful guide to help you to identify which Butterfly or Moth you have seen.

This April 2014 Butterfly Conservation is offering half price membership (with the code GARDEN50 and paying by direct debit), plus the first 100 people to sign up will receive a free pack of seeds, either Phlox, Pot Marigold or Cornflower, these are not only lovely flowers but are known to attract a variety of Butterflies and Moths, like the Humming-bird Hawk-moth and Peacock, included in each new membership welcome pack is their new gardening book, which contains details of how to encourage Butterflies and Moths into the garden as well as general gardening information, this book is exclusive to members and not for sale anywhere.

Gardening for Butterflies and Moths

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see more Butterflies in your garden, this Easter keep a look out for Butterflies or why not become a member of Butterfly Conservation and help our beautiful Butterflies and Moths?

Happy Easter

Gill

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